Monday, August 22, 2011

Rinzai Zen Training

While on my two-week vacation to the U.S., I revisited an aspect of Budo training that I have yet to mention in this blog. That is to say: meditation. Though meditation is rarely a part of Judo or Jujutsu training, it is a very integral part of Aikido. Especially in the United States, where the founders of many of the major Aikido organizations have been practicing Zen Buddhists and have made Zen a part of daily training.

At the
Kyoseikan Dojo
in Grand Rapids, Michigan, members regularly meet on Sunday mornings for a Rinzai Zen study group. Rinzai Zen was first brought to Japan from China near the end of the twelfth century, where it became popular with the newly formed Samurai class. Unlike other, gentler forms of Buddhism, Rinzai Zen was characterized by a more martial practice.
In 1979, Omori Roshi—a man considered to be one of the greatest Zen masters of the twentieth century—founded the Daihonzan Chozenji temple in Honolulu, Hawaii. This was the first Rinzai Zen headquarters established outside of Japan. From Honolulu, Rinzai Zen spread to mainland United States through the activities of two of Omori Roshi’s disciples : Tanouye Roshi and Hosokawa Roshi. Rinzai Zen training was further supported by the actions of Toyoda Tenzan Rokoji, founder of the Aikido Association of America and a Zen Master in his own right. Toyoda Sensei promoted the study and practice of Zen through his Chicago based Daiyuzenji temple.

(Zazen with Mata Sensei)

Though it seems difficult to believe that the practice of sitting still and clearing one’s mind can have beneficial results, it has long been an integral part of both religious and martial practices. Modern science has demonstrated the changing brain-wave patterns in people who spend time meditating and nearly everyone has heard stories of monks who have endured great cold and suffering through meditation. The sheer difficulty of “not thinking” should be enough to prove its importance. I will gladly train for three hours at a stretch, but thirty minutes of Zazen seems to last an eternity. But how can meditation possibly help your Budo?
One of the most important things that Budo teaches us is to develop control; both over our mind and body. He who fights in anger fights himself. A good budoka must have his complete concentration on his art without falling prey to stray thoughts or emotions. The practice of meditation helps us develop this control and focus. I like to think that meditation is a form of training for our concentration. AS with other practices, it becomes easier over time. The time you put in at the zendo will prove useful in the dojo or in competition where you need a clear mind.

In the Rinzai Zen training I have seen, the goal is to completely empty one’s mind of all stray thoughts; a seemingly simple task which proves itself to be much more difficult than it appears. For beginners, such as myself, counting one’s breath is a simple, first step. Focus your mind on the number… “one” inhale—exhale… “two” inhale—exhale. Each time a thought enters your mind, you must begin the count again from one.
There are many ways to sit for meditation and the exact form varies from school to school. The most important things to keep in mind are posture and breath. One’s posture should be straight with the hips pushed back. As Chiba Sensei—founder of the Birankai association of North America—once explained, “Show your ass-hole to the universe.” Pressing the hips back opens a space for the stomach to fully expand. This allows for correct breathing; deep breaths that fill and expand the stomach without moving the chest cavity. The chest has a very limited range of motion, whereas the stomach can expand much further. Try, for example, to inhale into the chest. When your chest is fully expanded and you can no longer draw breath, push out your stomach and notice how you can now continue to inhale.
As you exhale, try to maintain the stomach expanded. It is difficult, but the expanded stomach will act as a cushion upon which your internal organs can comfortably rest. This will actually help your posture.

Meditation is something I have long been telling myself I should practice more regularly. Its surprisingly difficult, however, to take those twenty or thirty minutes—even once a week—to sit. Perhaps this is a result of the busy lives we have created with our constant need for stimulation.

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